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July 3, 2003

Jonas Diño                                                                                                                                                                           

Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

Phone: 650/604-5612 or 650/604-9000




As NASA embarks on new missions to Mars in the search for evidence of life, students now have access to virtual tools that will help them understand the conditions that make human life possible on Earth and how to design a habitable fictional planet.

On July 1, 2003, three new modules were added to NASA's award-winning Astro-Venture Web site developed at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., as part of NASA's educational goal to inspire students to pursue careers in math, science and technology. The site is an educational, interactive, multimedia Web environment in which fifth- through eighth-grade students emulate NASA occupations and use scientific inquiry, to search for and design planets with the necessary characteristics for human habitation. The original astronomy unit and the three new modules - geology, biology and Earth science, complete the Earth system science unit for middle school students.

"Astro-Venture is an excellent tool to assist educators in delivering exciting NASA research to our future generation of explorers," said Donald James, NASA Ames education director. "The site exposes students to the compelling topic of astrobiology and the wide variety of careers that support this area of research." Astrobiology is the study of the origin, evolution, distribution and destiny of life in the universe.

Guided by the animated character 'Astro Ferret,' students explore the environmental features that help Earth support human life. They then engage in standards-based classroom lessons that emphasize why these features are necessary, before embarking on mission modules that simulate how NASA scientists are searching for habitable planets. The Web site uses multimedia features such as video, animation and graphics to keep students engaged and stimulated to explore each learning module.

The new modules continue the multimedia-rich, inquiry-based standard set by the original astronomy unit, which includes two astronomy multimedia modules, an astronomy educator guide of inquiry-based classroom activities, and a wealth of career fact sheets.

In the atmospheric science module, students can manipulate the amount of different gasses in our atmosphere and draw conclusions as to which proportions are necessary for human survival. Students also engage in activities that explain the properties of gasses and chemical reactions. In geology, students learn about the structure of the Earth, volcanoes and the formation and recycling of rocks. The biology unit covers the 'web of life,' which explains how all creatures are dependent on each other.

"The completion of these three new modules provides students with a unique opportunity to explore the Earth as a system," said Christina O’Guinn, NASA Ames' educational team lead. "Students view the Earth from the perspective of astrobiologists and see how all areas of science are interrelated. They come away with an appreciation of their planet and the complex systems on Earth that support human habitability."

To help teachers implement the lessons in the classroom, astronomy and atmosphere educator guides are currently available, and geology and biology guides are being developed. Astro-Venture lessons are designed to meet national education standards.

Since its launch on Feb. 1, 2003, Astro-Venture has been recognized by the educational community with an 'A+' review by Education World, Wallingford, Conn., and with the Star Award from the Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles, for excellence in promoting astronomy. Astro-Venture has been included in the Gender and Science Digital Library Project conducted by the Educational Development Center, Newton, Mass., the Digital Dozen Project conducted by the Eisenhower National Clearinghouse, Columbus, Ohio, and in an educational exhibit at the Bloomfield Science Museum, Jerusalem, Israel.

For information about the NASA Education Enterprise and programs, visit:

For information about NASA on the Internet, visit:

For information about Astro-Venture, visit:

For information about NASA Astrobiology Institute, visit:



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